Review: Trouble

Slash film festival
Fanastic Shorts Competition

If it were edited that way, Jordan Peele’s breakthrough film Get Out! would be an amazing collection of genre-infused shorts on the topic of slavery and its repercussions to contemporary life of African Americans. Also, Naledi Jackson’s short Trouble could fit into such collection as a lightweight horror flick with deep roots in Black experience packaged into the art house- and festival-friendly cinema style. After its premiere on Hulu (in the programme Bite Size Halloween) last year and screening at Tampere this March, it was selected for the competition at Slash happening live in Vienna.

Dante (Dalmar Abuzeid) is a pianist who has accepted a wedding gig on a short notice. However, the wedding takes place on the premises of a Southern plantation, which is rarely a good sign for a Black musician. Although the woman who escorts him to the premises tries to make him comfortable with some chit-chat, her oblivious or even casually racist remarks make him feel the tension. The level of it rises when he realizes that “the loft” where he will be stationed to try the piano is actually a former slave house. Once there, his nerves might just break down, as he starts seeing the ghosts of the past…

The horror in Trouble does not come from the external factors and tropes. There are no KKK, angry rednecks or the gentlemen from something like the Dixie Appreciation Society. It comes from within, from the collective memories of Dante and all the Black people of America. The fact that the places of terror and horror still exist in just barely modified shape and are still used for some other purposes is the legitimate source of inspiration for socially aware genre-infused cinema.

In that regard, Trouble is a stand-out for Jackson’s controlled, light-handed approach without the necessity for going into didactic. With a rhythmic succession of close-ups and wider shots, she paints both the landscape of the situation Dante finds himself into and of his inner turmoil. The special asset of the film is Tom Third’s musical score, with the changing styles from the typical minimal soundtrack to the slightly out-of-tune Wedding March and the finale of the slave-age standard Wade in the Water.

Indeed, the past is hardly ever just the past…

Year: 2020
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 7’ 04’’
Directed by: Naledi Jackson
Written by: Naledi Jackson
Cast: Dalmar Abuzeid, Aurora Browne, Mouna Traoré
Cinematography by: Daniel Grant
Editing by: Christine Armstrong
Music by: Tom Third
Sound design by: Kelly McGahey
Sound recording by: Eric Taylor
Production design by: Jeremy Cobourne
Costume design by: Tala Kamea
Make-up by: Nehnika Williams
Visual effects by: Dennis Mason
Colourist: Jason Zukowski
Assistant director: Jeff Pavlopoulos
Produced by: Priscilla Galvez, Jeff Pavlopoulos
Production companies: Silent Tower, Aliferous Pictures